Eli Manning’s Agent Confident in a New Deal: The agent for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, Tom Condon, told The New York Daily News that he is confident a new contract will be negotiated that will keep Manning in Giants Blue. Manning is entering the final year of his current contract. He is scheduled to make $17 million in base salary in 2015 and count $19.75 million against the team’s salary cap.
“The interesting part about it is, since 1993, the inception of free agency, has there ever been an elite quarterback hit the open market?” asked Condon. “Peyton (Manning did in 2012), but he had four neck surgeries and no idea if he would ever be well enough to play. Drew Brees, when he went to New Orleans (in 2006), he had 15 studs in his shoulder, in his throwing arm (from a hit he took in the final game of 2005). There’s nobody else that’s ever come up. They just re-do you.”
Condon also pointed to Manning’s reputation off of the field.
“In all the years that he’s been here, has he ever said anything that’s been scandalous in the newspaper?” Condon said. “Nothing. And in this market? He’s a genuinely good guy.”
“The quarterbacks always get done,” Condon said. “And the Giants are not a skittish team. So it’s not one of those things where they get nervous or they jump around or anything like that. You know you’re going to go in and it’s going to get done. I’m sure at the appropriate time it’ll happen.”
2014 YEAR IN REVIEW:It was a mixed bag for the New York Giants on special teams in 2014. The Giants finished 3rd in the NFL in field goal percentage, but 22nd in net punting (including allowing a blocked punt for a touchdown). The Giants were 2nd in the NFL in covering kickoffs, but 27th in covering punts (also allowing one punt return for a touchdown).
The punt and kick return games remained anemic, with the Giants finishing 19th and 18th, respectively. The punt returns were split among Odell Beckham (21 returns, 11 fair catches, 8.1 yard average), Preston Parker (8 returns, 6 fair catches, 6.6 yard average), and Rueben Randle (no returns, 10 fair catches). The kickoff returns were split among Parker (21 returns, 24.2 yard average), Quintin Demps (12 returns, 21.3 yard average), and Michael Cox (11 returns, 23.7 yard average).
The Giants scored no special teams touchdowns and had the two aforementioned scored against them, both in losses.
The best Giants player on special teams in 2014 was Josh Brown, who made 24-of-26 of his field goals (92.3 percent) with one of the misses being blocked.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants signed street free agent punter Robert Malone and street free agent place kicker/punter Chris Boswell in January to compete with punter Steve Weatherford and place kicker Josh Brown.
The big signing was the the 5-year, $17.5 million contract given to special teams stud Dwayne Harris from the Dallas Cowboys. Because Harris does it all on specials, returning and covering both punts and kicks, he is arguably the best special teams player in the game. Harris has three “NFC Player of the Week” awards to his credit.
Other additions who could impact special teams coverage units include free agent linebackers J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas and rookies WR Geremy Davis, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, S Landon Collins, S Mykkele Thompson, and S Justin Currie. Rookies WR Ben Edwards and RB Akeem Hunt could provide competition to the return game.
No longer in the picture are linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, as well as returners Quintin Demps and Michael Cox.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Most eyes will focus on Dwayne Harris and his impact on not only the return game but on special teams coverage units. The $17.5 millon the Giants gave to Harris puts a lot of pressure on Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn to fix issues in the return game and punt coverage unit. The Giants also gave a lot of money to linebackers J.T. Thomas (3 years, $10 million) and Jonathan Casillas (3 years, $8 million) to help out on coverage units. Quite a few of the defensive backs on the team are or should be good special teams players too, including Mike Harris, Landon Collins, Bennett Jackson, Cooper Taylor, Nat Berhe, and Mykkele Thompson.
ON THE BUBBLE:Though he will probably make the team, Mark Herzlich (2-year, $2.6 million contract) could be pressed by rookie free agent linebacker Cole Farrand. The signing of Dwayne Harris also could reduce the special teams value of wideout Preston Parker.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Tom Quinn on Dwayne Harris: “He is going to be a ‘big four’ player, so he will be on all four of the teams and he will make a very good contribution. His coverage skills are equal to his return skills, so that is the nice thing about getting this kind of player.”
Quinn on what makes Harris a good returner: “He is decisive. There isn’t a lot of wasted movement. He is physical. He has a good understanding of the return schemes and what is needed for each one. There is no hesitation. If he is catching the ball and you are running it to the right, he is going to get it to the right, which sets up all the blockers for him. They know where he is going to be. A lot of times when you are blocking, (the returner) is supposed to be over here, but the returner is running the wrong direction or in the middle and now your block is not set up for that. He is very decisive. He is a strong runner.”
Quinn on new acquisitions who could help out: “We got some new acquisitions at the linebacker spot and we got some safeties in, which are nice, and getting Bennett Jackson back has been pleasing. The young kid from Texas, (Mykkele) Thompson, has done some good things; he is long and has real good speed, so I think he can be pretty versatile for us. Obviously Landon (Collins) has done a nice job in what he have asked him to do, so (I) am pleased with the overall group.”
PREDICTIONS: Punt returns and punt coverage have been a problem under Tom Quinn for quite some time. From 2010-14, the Giants have finished 31st, 29th, 30th, 26th, and 19th in punt return average with no punt return touchdowns during that five-year span. During the same period, the Giants have finished 31st, 17th, 15th, 30th, and 27th in punt coverage with six punt return touchdowns allowed. The kick return game has been pretty bad too except for David Wilson’s performance in 2012.
This is not so much a prediction, but a gnawing fear. Despite bright moments in the 2007 and 2011 playoffs, the Giants special teams have been a sore spot for years. Yet Tom Quinn has somehow avoided the executioner. If the special teams unit under-performs again in 2015, costing the team in the win-loss column, Tom Coughlin may find himself being the one receiving a pink slip because of his decision to stick with Quinn.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: It would be a pretty major upset if Josh Brown, Steve Weatherford, and Zak DeOssie do not remain the team’s place kicker, punter, and long snapper, respectively. Dwayne Harris should be the kickoff and punt returner. There are some good athletes at defensive end (Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Damontre Moore), linebacker (Devon Kennard, J.T. Thomas, and Jonathan Casillas), and safety (Landon Collins, Bennett Jackson, Nat Berhe, Cooper Taylor, and Mykkele Thompson) who should be special teams assets. The Giants also think Geremy Davis could be a special teams weapon.
Safety Landon Collins, the second-round draft pick of the New York Giants in the 2015 NFL Draft, was asked on Friday what his expectations were for his rookie season at the NFL’s Rookie Symposium.
“Defensive Rookie of the Year, that’s my expectation,” Collins responded.
The Giants traded up to take Collins with the first pick in the second round, giving up their fourth-round selection to do so. “They didn’t move up in the draft for no reason, that’s what I’m trying to prove and be ready to play,” said Collins.
Collins has practiced with the first-team defense since being drafted. While most draft pundits argued that Collins was strictly an in-the-box, run-defending safety, the Giants have insisted since the draft that he is more than that. And Collins practiced at both safety positions during the Organized Team Activity (OTA) and mini-camp practices.
“It’s been going fantastic,” said Collins. “The coaches love the range that I have. I get to go showcase it at practice…the more I work on it, the better I can get at it and the more I can help my corners if I need to help over the top.”
Last week, safeties coach David Merritt said the team is still looking for a leader to step forward at safety.
“You need to have one leader back there, and that’s what I’m still looking for,” said Merritt. “It’s elusive. I’m searching for it. If it’s Landon, great. If it’s Cooper (Taylor), great. If it’s Nat (Berhe), great. If it’s Mykkele (Thompson), great. But I need to have a leader come up and emerge out of this mini-camp and emerge out of training camp…(We’ve had) very slow leadership as far as making calls and controlling the defense. The guys right now are very slow at making those checks.”
Collins says he is ready to accept that challenge.
“First, what I’m trying to improve is my trust with the players,” said Collins. “I can’t be a leader until they trust me in my play calling and be able to call plays and make movements and make an adjustment. So that is what I need to work on and that’s what I’m going to work on day by day.”
“(Collins) has to make the calls and get everyone lined up,” said Merritt. “I really do (think Collins can do it). He is starting to realize that these missed alignments and the minus plays, I have to cut those out of my game in order for the guys around me to trust me. That is what he wants to be. He wants to be a leader. Okay, we are putting him out there. I think he is going to be ready to go, definitely, for Dallas.”
2014 YEAR IN REVIEW:Like the cornerbacks, the New York Giants safeties were supposed to be an area of strength in 2014 but ended up being a big disappointment. The team decided to cut super-talented but super-idiotic Will Hill after he failed yet another drug test. And Antrel Rolle followed up arguably his best season as a safety with one of his worst. Stevie Brown returned from an ACL injury but lost his starting job to Quintin Demps who later lost it back to Brown. Obviously neither stood out. Second-year safety Cooper Taylor missed the entire season with a foot injury. Rookie 5th Nat Berhe rounder played all 16 games but was primarily used on special teams. The Giants finished 18th in the NFL in pass defense and the safeties were missing in action far too often against both the run and the pass.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants gutted the position in the offseason as they made little to no effort in re-signing free agents Antrel Rolle (signed with the Bears), Stevie Brown (signed with the Texans), and Quintin Demps (still unsigned). The team also waived practice squader Thomas Gordon in May.
The only remaining safeties from 2014 are Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe. Bennett Jackson, who spent his rookie season in 2014 on Injured Reserve, was switched from corner to safety this spring. The Giants signed corner/safety ‘tweener Josh Gordy in free agency but he saw most of his spring work for the Giants at cornerback. Three of the six safeties on the roster are rookies: Landon Collins (2nd round), Mykkele Thompson (5th round), and Justin Currie (rookie free agent).
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: On paper, the Giants have some interesting talent at safety in the form of one second rounder, three fifth rounders, a sixth rounder, and a rookie free agent. However these players are all young and inexperienced. Five of the six were acquired in 2014-15 from the college ranks, and the other (Taylor) was a 2013 draft pick. There is absolutely no veteran presence to speak of despite the fact that Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system is cerebral and complicated. And like most if not all systems, the safeties make the defensive calls in the secondary.
“It’s the most complex system I’ve been in,” said linebacker Jon Beason. “This is my fifth defensive coordinator. It is the most complex because we will not sit back and be dictated to by anybody…Offenses create problems by formations, moving people around, shifts and motions…Every call we (the defense) can make a change.”
So the chief story line will be how fast can the young pups grow up, and how many growing pains will there be?
“I think it is extremely hard (for a rookie to start in this defense),” said New York Giants Safeties Coach David Merritt. “(The safety is) an extension of the defensive coordinator. Whatever call comes in, you need to be able to hear the call, accept the call, and then spit it back out to your fellow teammates. For a rookie to come in and have that pressure, to be the extension of the defensive coordinator, it is extremely difficult.”
“Young,” said Spagnuolo of the safeties. “There is youth and inexperience there. It doesn’t matter what system you are in, in my opinion, defensively, (the starting safeties) are really important. Everyone else relies on them. The quicker we can get to the other nine trusting them, the better off we will be. I am not sure we are there yet. I think it is going to be a work in progress, but we will get there.
“Right now it is a challenge… It is a challenge for our patience and our trust in them. Everyday it gets better, I can tell you that… (But) we have a long ways to go in my opinion.”
Complicating matters is that Nat Berhe, who was pegged early by the coaching staff to start alongside rookie Landon Collins, missed all of the spring practices with a calf injury. Taylor, Thompson, Jackson, and Currie benefited from the additional practice snaps, but both Tom Coughlin and safeties coach David Merritt have said that Berhe’s development has been set back by the missed time.
With Collins sure to start at one spot, it is most likely that Berhe and Taylor will battle for the other starting position.
There is not a lot of time. The Giants face Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten on September 13.
ON THE BUBBLE:The Giants will likely carry four or five safeties. Bennett Jackson, Mykkele Thompson, and Justin Currie are most likely fighting for one or two roster spots.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: David Merritt on Landon Collins: “He has to make the calls and get everyone lined up…Now when you are trying to line up grown men who have wives and children at home and they need that call from you, it is a little different than lining up a freshman. The call has to be right. Right now, he is slow to go, which was expected, but he has to pick it up quickly for us to be successful…I really do (think Collins can do it). He is starting to realize that these missed alignments and the minus plays, I have to cut those out of my game in order for the guys around me to trust me. That is what he wants to be. He wants to be a leader. Okay, we are putting him out there. I think he is going to be ready to go, definitely, for Dallas.”
Merritt on Cooper Taylor: “Cooper is coming along well. Mentally, I never doubted Cooper would be able to pick up the defense. It is just now getting Cooper’s body to move in the proper direction once he receives the call and allows himself to line up and just see what is happening in front of him. The mental part, Cooper is fine, but it is now the physical part. We have to make sure the durability factor – he has to be durable for us because he has missed the past two seasons. Mentally, I am not concerned about him. Physically hoping that he will be able to step up and be durable for us.”
Merritt on Nat Berhe: “(Him missing spring practices) hurts tremendously because all the reps that Cooper (Taylor) and Landon (Collins) and Mykkele (Thompson) and some of the other guys have taken, Nat would have been right in there with all the other guys. By him standing on the sideline and taking mental reps – I understand you are taking mental reps, but it is different. It is not the same as putting your body through the motions and making your body react to different movements that the receivers are stemming at you. It is going to definitely hurt him and set him back a little bit, but hopefully he can come back at training camp and be ready to fight for a starting job.”
Merritt on Mykkele Thompson: “Mykkele, I knew was a smart kid. He came here and he is a cerebral kid, that is for sure. He is going to take what I say literally and take my word for it and go out and try to execute it. Now I am starting to see that the kid actually has some football awareness, where I didn’t think he had much of it when we first started off. The (missed alignments) that started at the beginning of rookie mini-camp and OTAs have drastically gone down. Mentally, he has excelled past my expectations…Long arms. We did a drill the other day where he was having to punch a bag and escape from the blocker and to see his arms and the extension of his arms, that was good to see. I am definitely interested to see him in the pads.”
Merritt on Bennett Jackson: “(His conversion to safety) has been good. You are going from the outside where you are playing on an island and then all of sudden, you go to a back end position where you have to see the formation and play, the moving parts, and put people in the right position. Jackson, in his situation right now, there has been a learning curve for him, which has been hard for him. It has been a struggle at first, but out of all the guys, that is one kid that when he puts his foot in the ground, he can go. He can go. I am looking forward to seeing Bennett at camp with pads on because I truly believe he will hit as well.”
Merritt on Justin Currie:“Justin Currie has done a great job, as well, our free agent. Big kid, as well. I am interested to see what he can do once the pads are on his shoulders and hopefully he will be able to be a thumper for us.”
PREDICTIONS: There will be growing pains. The young safeties will make mental mistakes that will lead to big plays and touchdowns. How bad this inexperience will hurt the Giants in terms of lost games in 2015 remains to be seen. But it’s the nature of the game that old players will eventually be replaced by young ones. Some of those young players will wither while others blossom. In his last interaction with the press, Tom Coughlin seemed generally pleased by the progress of the two rookie draft picks. “We have a good feel for the rookies, we really do. Thompson (has) been doing well and starting to come along and that was a key thing,” said Coughlin. “Collins has done a good job, has gotten better and has really done a good job of starting to direct back there, and I think the coaches are excited about him going forward.”
I believe the players who are currently on the roster will develop into fine players. What I don’t know – and no one really does – is how fast that process will take. The overall effectiveness of the entire defense and the fate of the team’s playoff chances may depend on how quickly Collins, Taylor, and Berhe become assets rather than liabilities. Based on coaching comments, one thing is clear – the team is looking for someone to take charge at safety as a vocal leader.
“You need to have one leader back there, and that’s what I’m still looking for,” said Merritt. “It’s elusive. I’m searching for it. If it’s Landon, great. If it’s Cooper, great. If it’s Nat, great. If it’s Mykkele, great. But I need to have a leader come up and emerge out of this mini-camp and emerge out of training camp…(We’ve had) very slow leadership as far as making calls and controlling the defense. The guys right now are very slow at making those checks.”
FINAL DEPTH CHART: The Giants will keep four or five safeties. I think they will keep five: Landon Collins, Nat Berhe, Cooper Taylor, Mykkele Thompson, and Bennett Jackson. Jackson not only provides special teams value but he can play corner too. Justin Currie is intriguing but his best shot is probably the Practice Squad.